T.J. Yeldon: Alabama Backs, Committees and Future Production

yeldon

Many are comparing this year’s crop of running backs to the tremendous receiver class we had a year ago. We’ve already covered the home run reliant Tevin Coleman, underrated David Cobb, unknown Terrell Watson, and taken a box score look at the top of the group in relation to production. One player not getting a lot of burn here or in the draft universe is T.J. Yeldon.

The 6’2”, 220 pound back is part of the apparently never-ending stream of NFL-caliber Alabama backs. He emerged at age 19 by posting an 1,100 yard/13 total touchdown season while sharing a backfield with Eddie Lacy. Injuries and the incorporation of Derrick Henry dampened his final season of production; Yeldon finished 2014 with just 979 rushing yards while his yards per carry dropped a full yard from his previous pace.

Alabama has been a running back factory of sorts recently, having three backs selected in the first two rounds over the past four seasons. With that kind of talent constantly funneling through the system, there’s a different type of committee created, one possibly generated by talent rather than role. Using the Box Score App, here’s how Yeldon’s career measures up against those previous Alabama backs. I’ve also included his running mate for the past two seasons, Derrick Henry, for good measure.

BAMABACKS

In only three of these 14 seasons did a back average over 15 carries per game, so concerns about “workhorse ability” may be overblown. Yeldon and Mark Ingram produced their best seasons as sophomores, while Trent Richardson and Lacy closed with their strongest seasons. Lacy was a guy whose stock seemed to drop throughout the pre-draft process due to both injuries and by the presence of Yeldon himself. Despite that, Lacy has turned in two great seasons in the NFL. On the other hand, Richardson is on the verge of never being spoken of in fantasy circles again. Yeldon’s final season was the weakest of departing seasons, which may or may not be problematic going forward.

Yeldon is widely considered a future committee back and he was treated as one in college –whether because of his talent alone, or just a team surplus of talent.  Does being in a committee at the collegiate level have any future relevance on NFL outlook?

Yeldon closed college with just a 36 percent share of the Alabama rushing yards. Although Alabama rushed for 206.6 yards per game, ranked 26th in the nation, that lack of market share is a red flag for me. A large market share of rushing yards doesn’t necessarily point to success, but a low number is a potential issue. Final year production has been the best barometer for gauging production at the next level, so I went and pulled every running back drafted since 2001 that had a final season rushing market share under 50 percent, his raw rushing total for those teams that had stellar overall run games, and their subsequent top-24 and top-12 scoring PPR seasons in the NFL thus far.

PlayerCollegeYearPickFY YardsFY MSYDSTop24YrsTop12yrs
Ronnie BrownAuburn200429130.4140
Darren McFaddenArkansas2007418300.4711
Carnel WilliamsAuburn2004511650.4810
Felix JonesArkansas20072211620.3010
Mark IngramAlabama20102816580.4310
Joseph AddaiLousiana State2005309110.4733
Ryan WilliamsVirginia Tech20103816550.3100
Chris HenryArizona2006505810.4800
Ben TateAuburn20095813620.4900
Maurice Jones-DrewUCLA2005609140.4675
Eddie LacyAlabama20126113220.4122
Christine MichaelTexas A&M2012628990.2800
Brandon JacksonNebraska2006639890.4110
Steve SlatonWest Virginia20078910510.4711
Justin FargasSouthern California20029613220.3910
Knile DavisArkansas2012967150.3100
Devonta FreemanFlorida State201310310160.3800
Robert TurbinUtah St.201110615170.4800
Marion BarberMinnesota200410912690.4242
Mike GoodsonTexas A&M20081114060.4900
Joe McKnightSouthern California200911210140.4900
Leon WashingtonFlorida State20051174300.4000
Correll BuckhalterNebraska20001214500.2800
Tashard ChoiceGeorgia Tech200712213790.0600
Alvin PearmanVirginia200412710370.4100
Jamie HarperClemson20101304600.4300
James WhiteWisconsin201313014440.3900
LaBrandon ToefieldLouisiana St.20021324750.3400
Kolby SmithLouisville20061488620.3600
Chris ThompsonFlorida State20121546870.3300
Chris RaineyFlorida20111598610.4600
Wali LundyVirginia20051705740.4400
Evan RoysterPenn State201017710140.4900
Alfred BlueLSU20131812980.1200
Thomas ClaytonKansas St.200618611770.4600
Lache SeastrunkBaylor20131866370.4300
Allen BradfordSouthern California20101877670.3500
Jonathan DwyerGeorgia Tech200918813950.3700
Mike JamesMiami (FL)20121896210.3700
Rex BurkheadNebraska201219013570.4600
James DavisClemson20081957510.4500
Theo RiddickNotre Dame20121999170.4100
Terrance GanawayBaylor201120215470.3900
Chris OgbonnayaTexas20082113730.2300
Michael SmithUtah St.20112128700.2700
Da'Rel ScottMaryland20102217080.4000
Anthony AllenGeorgia Tech201022513160.3900
DeShawn WynnFlorida20062287010.3100
Edwin BakerMichigan St.20112506650.3300

Keep in mind that a top-12 season also registers as a top 24 season in this table. Lacy again pops up as a positive comp and Maurice Jones-Drew is the crown jewel of the group. But 49 different backs made the list, with just 12 of the 49 producing a top 24 season and just five of those 12 doing it multiple times. In regard to elite production, only six of the names here went on to produce a top 12 scoring season with just four doing it more than once. For the majority of the group, most of these backs also found themselves in NFL committees. In the cases of a backfield having two strong backs at once, raw production doesn’t appear to provide any hope either, as some of the highest collegiate producers and draft selections went on to disappoint in the NFL.

More troublesome is that although we used an arbitrary line at 50 percent of the team total rushing market share, only two backs under 40 percent of their team rushing total went on to post a top 24 season, each just once, and none of them produced a top 12 finish. Here’s a list of 2015 running back prospects with final year market share totals under 50 percent.

2015mSbacks

This group isn’t exactly the cream of the class, and you see potentially bad news for others down the line. Yeldon first came to my attention in this post that looked at explosive scoring plays. In that outlook, 78.4 percent of his collegiate scores came on runs inside the 10-yard line, with just four of them coming from 20 yards or longer. His overall peripheral production is concerning, and while he looks the part, I’ll be really curious to see how he scores physically. The combine might shed light on his lack of explosive plays and provide some clues about his ability to be a standalone back in the NFL. I’m also intrigued to see how he scores at the combine because if he tests out really well, maybe to some degree he’s the running back version of Odell Beckham, where his production just never intersected with the athlete. I’m not writing him off just yet, but he will definitely be a polarizing prospect this summer at a position littered with options.